Sandy Hook Promise Returns With a Much Bleaker Back-to-School Ad

BBDO parodies the season's sunny spots

Since midsummer, retailers have been flooding the airwaves with ads for back-to-school supplies. But of course, kids carry weightier baggage with them upon their return to classes these days—as Sandy Hook Promise reminds us in its latest hard-hitting PSA. 

This year's spot—the sixth from BBDO New York for the gun-violence awareness group, formed after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting—is a parody of traditional back-to-school ads. While many such ads metaphorically say their products help kids "survive the school year," Sandy Hook Promise shows them literally doing just that. 

Back-To-School Essentials | Sandy Hook Promise

The spot walks the line between goofy and dark, which is a tough balance to strike, though it never feels flippant. It helps that the concept isn't entirely fanciful—indeed, we live in a world where you can now buy a bulletproof backpack for your kid. 

But ratcheting up the absurdity helps to achieve one of Sandy Hook Promise's goals, which is to reject this "new normal" and shake the audience awake to the reality that we shouldn't accept school shootings as part of everyday life. 

"So far this year there have been over 22 school shootings, and with students heading back to school, it seems sadly probable that we will see more incidents. This is unacceptable, given that we have proven tools to prevent these acts from occurring," says Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise and mother of Dylan Hockley, who was killed at Sandy Hook. 

"We cannot accept school shootings as the new normal in our country. Our goal with this PSA is to wake up parents to the horrible reality that our children endure. Gone are the days of viewing back-to-school as just a carefree time, when school violence has become so prevalent. However, if we come together to know the signs, this doesn't have to be the case. I hope that parents across the country will join me to make the promise to stop this epidemic." 

"Know the Signs" is Sandy Hook Promise's core initiative—teaching youths and adults how to identify at-risk behavior and intervene before a tragedy occurs. More than 7.5 million people nationwide have been trained in Sandy Hook Promise's "Know the Signs" programs. 

The creatively powerful PSAs from BBDO have also helped, including the famous "Evan" spot from 2016. (The new spot, like "Evan," was directed by Smuggler's Henry-Alex Rubin.)

"Back-to-School Essentials" is SHP's biggest campaign to date—a 360 campaign that includes print, digital, radio, and out of home ads. More $2 million worth of donated media placements will carry the work. 

Supporting the campaign are top media brands such as Omnicom Media Group, CNN, IFC, AMC, YouTube, Teads, PopSugar, Conde Nast, SnapChat, Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Fortune, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Intersection and Outdoor Media. PHD New York has partnered with SHP on media planning and strategy.


Creative Agency: BBDO, New York
Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide: David Lubars
Chief Creative Officer, New York: Greg Hahn
SVP Senior Creative Director: Peter Alsante
VP Creative Director: Bianca Guimaraes
Associate Creative Director / Copywriter: Jim Connolly
Associate Creative Director / Copywriter: Gary Toit
Associate Creative Director / Art Director: Lance Vining
Director of Integrated Production: David Rolfe
VP, Group Executive Producer: Alex Gianni
Associate Producer: Molly Ross
Music Producer: Julia Millison
Business Manager: Grace Kelly
Svp Senior Director: Lindsey Cash
Account Manager: Elizabeth Jacobs
Account Executive: Melissa Blache 
Planning Director: Ben Bass
Brand Strategist: Michael Schonfeld
VP, Director of Data: Chris Daniele

Production Company: Smuggler
Executive Producer: Drew Santarsiero
Director: Henry-Alex Rubin
Co-Founder: Patrick Milling -Smith
Co-Founder: Brian Carmody
Line Producer: Lead Allina
Director Of Photography: Autumn Durald Arkapaw

Editorial Company: No6 Edit
Managing Director: Corina Dennison
Senior Producer: Laura Molinaro
Editor: Jason Macdonald
Assistant Editor: Renn Cheale

Telecine Company: Company 3
Telecine Artist: Tim Masick
Producer: Alexandra Lubrano

Conform / VFX / Finish Company: No6 Edit
Conform Artist: Ed Skupeen
Flame Assist: Mark Reyes

Graphic Design Company: No6 Edit
Producer: Laura Molinaro
GFX: David Gerber

Music Company: JSM
CEO/CCO: Joel Simon
Executive Producer: Jeff Fiorello
Composer: Jason Krebs / Joel Simon
Producer: Norm Felker / Andrew Manning
Sound Designer: Nathan Kil

Mix & Record Company: Heard City
Engineer: Jeremy Siegel, Keith Reynaud, Evan Mangiamele, Elizabeth McClanahan
Managing Partner: Gloria Pitagosky
Executive Producer: Jackie James & Sasha Awn
Producer: Andi Lewis
Sound Designers: Evan Mangiamele, Jeremy Siegel, Keith Reynaud, 
Assistant Audio Engineers: Tom Morris, Seth Brogdon, Evan Anderson, Ronnie Stapleton

Casting Company: Doreen Frumkin
VO Talent: Lawton Paseka (for radio spots only)

Media Agency: PHD Media
Bob Estrada, Client Business Lead
Nichole Verost, Associate Strategy Director
Gretchen Smith, Digital Performance Director
Alison Horowitz, Strategy Supervisor
Caren Axelrod, Associate Director, Social Media
Harry Keeshan, President, Video Investment
Seth Glosman, Managing Director, Integrated Investment
Paul Salman, Director, Video Investment
Amy Turner, Associate Director, Published Media
Amanda Knoll, Supervisor, Published Media
Grace Collins, US Director, Local Investment
Jeanne Boland, Group Director, Local Investment

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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